How to make Visual Studio .NET 2003 run on Windows 7

Microsoft decided to drop support for several versions of its Visual Studio, but still people like me have to work with it. I still need to run Visual Studio .NET 2003 from time to time, but since Vista, it's not that easy anymore. And Win7 seems to have been the nail into its coffin: Starting the IDE will work, but running the compiler already fails with senseless error messages.
Which is, from a technical point of view a bit ridiculous, btw. I remember having payed a lot of money for this piece of unsupported CENSORED.

Anyway, after playing around a bit, if you have the same problem, there is a simple way to make Visual Studio .NET 2003 run on Windows 7 even without the XP VM: Install SP1 and in the Properties of the Visual Studio startup icon on the desktop or in the task bar, select the 'Compatibility' tab and use 'Compatibility mode for Windows Vista SP1'. Don't use the Windows XP compatibility mode, it won't work. Additionally, disable 'Visual Designs' and 'Desktop Composition'. After this VS 2003 will run, compile and stop crashing. Unfortunately, running your programs in the debugger will slow them down by about a factor of 5.

But better than nothing. At least we've got new colorful icons with Win7 now, right? :)

six comments, already:

Thanks for this – I’m about to install Windows 7 any day now and still have VS 2003, although I rarely use it now. Officially in Ogre we’ll be dropping support for 2003 next year when 2010 comes out – 3 versions of MSVC is plenty to be looking after ;)
steve () (link) - 30 12 09 - 17:55

Is there something special with VS2003 (like certain plugins) you want to use, which makes it better than the free MSVC 2008 Express?
The express version is almost as good as the full version if you don’t need to install 3rd party plugins or some team centric stuff etc. For deployment you have to learn the new WinSxS stuff though, private assemblies and whatever, since just dropping CRT dll in same dir won’t work anymore (this stuff was introduced with the 2005 version).
Jetro (link) - 30 12 09 - 20:22

Well, it’s most likely not about being better but about supporting older compilers when deploying compiled libraries (non-standard compiler features tend to change a lot with every major release, breaking backwards compatibility almost cetainly), ready-to-run visual studio solution files etc., which you cannot produce using newer versions. VC++ 2010 will finally introduce native multi-targeting though.
VSUser - 31 12 09 - 14:30

VS is not cheap, it’s certainly a way for MS to force people to buy the new versions. It’s funny that there is a Windows XP compatibility mode, which does not work.
Herve () (link) - 03 01 10 - 13:46

Has anyone already experiences with MinGW or even Code::Blocks on Windows 7?
CuteAlien - 04 01 10 - 15:24

but what about intallation process?? I can’t install FrontPage Server extension which is necessary to debug VS2003 project.. Is there any solution to solve this problem?? I think it is not possible to install and debug project without FPSE.. problem is because FPSE needs IIS6 and in win7 is IIS7.5 :/ .. Do you have any ideas how to solve this?
wolku - 01 02 10 - 09:44

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